Volunteer College Students

The better the college or university, the less likely its students will be involved in meaningful community service.

That's a surprising result of a recent study of liberal arts schools. Of the top-ranked schools in the U.S. News and World report, only Stanford came out in the top 20 in community service.

But wait, there's more.

Under a 1964 law, students can work off federal education loans by spending time in community service, under the direction of their school. But the study by Northwestern University and The Washington Monthly magazine showed 147 schools in violation of that federal mandate.

Many students taking advantage of the Federal Work/Study Program serve as just a ready source of cheap labor on their campuses, more likely washing dishes in the school cafeteria than helping a social-service organization off campus, such as tutoring.

Arizona Senator John McCain (R) has a bill in Congress (the Call to Service Act) that would toughen requirements for students to do community work and to push colleges toward creating better off-campus service opportunities for students.

Communities near colleges can benefit from the service of students. Middle and high schools around the country have successfully worked community-service requirements into their curriculums. Students in Maryland, for instance, must put in a minimum of 60 community-service hours in order to graduate.

Institutions of higher learning can do much more to bring a community service spirit back into the federal program. They can't place a high premium on college applicants' record of community service and then let them work off their loans as soda jerks at the student union.

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